Island isolation: how COVID-19 has impacted dentistry on UK isles

Dentistry Online have spoken to dentists on some of the UK's islands to see how they are being impacted by COVID-19

Dentistry Online has spoken to dentists residing on UK islands to see how their practices are coping with the pandemic. 

It has now been almost six weeks since the UK entered lockdown and routine dentistry was then called to a temporary halt.

But the CDO for England, Sara Hurley, has said NHS England will expand its urgent dental care system as part of its next phase – with routine care being unlikely to return before the end of June.

We have caught up with dentists who are set apart from mainland England to see how coronavirus is impacting dentistry on the UK’s islands and where they see it heading.

Philip Lewis, Avenue Road Dental, Isle of Wight

Philip runs the private Avenue Road Dental on the Isle of Wight, where he has lived for 17 years.

Up until last week, the island had no urgent dental care centres to carry out emergency treatment.

‘The practice is closed and has been closed since routine dentistry stopped. All my staff have been furloughed except the website manager, who is putting out messages for patients.

‘It was only from last week that we started to get emergency hubs. Before that, it was only telephone advice that was available. I have not had to refer a patient yet but it’s reassuring that they are there now.

‘This is a very challenging time for everyone. One of the things we’re not sure about is what will happen to our hygienists as they’re self-employed. I have no idea what support they are getting.

‘The information that’s slowly trickling out suggests we are going to be confined to urgent treatment only when we first open back up.

‘We are not going to be carrying on from where we left off. It’s the uncertainty that is a great part of the stress.

‘Of course, we are very fortunate in that we have not had a big number of cases yet. Of course, it is still possible. People on the island are behaving well when it comes to the lockdown.

‘Ferry companies are only bringing in essential goods and supplies to the island and anybody travelling over in private cars are being asked for their reason for travel.

‘I think it’s going to change dentistry permanently, and in many ways. Quite what they will be is difficult to predict. For example, we are a small practice but we hope we are a friendly one and like to chat to our patients. However, it seems that getting back to normal practice will involve getting patients in and out as quickly as possible.

‘It’s going to change the nature of dentistry and how we have been working.’

Andrew Jowett, Quay Dental, Isle of Man

Andrew is the clinical director and lead dentist at Quay Dental, a private dental practice on the Isle of Man.

‘Early on, the government carried out thorough contact tracing . There’s been a very low number of cases on the island. Our borders are closed for the most part, with anybody coming in having to isolate for 14 days.

‘On 26 March, all practices were told to close the next day, with one central hub being set up. I’ve been told it’s had very limited access to PPE and that it’s only doing phone advice, with no aerosol generating procedures being carried out.

‘As a fully private practice, we’ve been triaging and issuing prescriptions where possible. We’ve also started virtual consultations.

‘Through social media I have seen that there are a lot of people with a lot of dental problems. Antibiotics are not going to be helping with a lot of these cases.

‘The Isle of Man government put out a draft proposal. From 11 May, practices will offer a limited 8am to 8pm service, seven days a week.

‘At Quay, we’ve always had a contingency buffer of a few months. At the moment, I’m also spending a lot of time on how business will look afterwards – that’s one blessing to come out of these circumstances.

‘I know that most practice owners are hoping for a return to the old normal. I think there are a lot of uncertainties.

‘We have to consider like what will the impact on employment and the economy have on private dentistry? What will be the impact of this time of no treatment provision on NHS services?

‘I think PPE protocols will be issued in the short term and we will have to wait for guidance to be offered in the long term.

‘I think virtual consultations will have a future post COVID especially for monitoring orthodontic cases.

‘It’s worth noting the latest iPhones have face mapping software similar to intra oral scanners. Could this be adapted to enable patients to scan their own teeth with a smart phone and using artificial intelligence to monitor dental health in conjunction with the dental team? I predict this will happen within the next decade.’

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